Monday, October 15, 2012

Two Young People Report on their Experience of Invocation 2012

The Lancaster Group

I was sent the following two testimonies from Lancaster Diocese after Invocation 2012. Although they were published in the diocesan newspaper I've changed the names to respect their privacy on the web.

I should know by now that nervousness before a Catholic weekend away is a sure sign that I am going to have a brilliant time. I was nervous as I arrived at the 'Invocation2012' event at St Mary's College Oscott. Invocation2012 is a National Festival for discernment for vocations to the priesthood or religious life. I was looking forward to going Catholic camping, but apprehensive of what the weekend might bring up; what I might find myself called to be. According to the organisers of Invocation2012, we were not exactly on a retreat, nor at a conference; we were at a festival. It certainly had all of the hallmarks of a festival; a threatening forecast, lots of mud, some portaloos and plenty of tents!

This however, was a festival with a difference. Held in the grounds of St Mary's College, Oscott, (a seminary) it was a wonderfully varied weekend, going from the basic (but fun) conditions of the sleeping in a field, through the mud, to the plush conference marquee complete with comfy wicker chairs and white cushions. Beyond there were large tepee tents for socialising and, crowning it all of course, was the beautiful house and Chapel of Pugin design. Getting up at 4am to pray in the beautiful Chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, queuing up for the excellent food whilst chatting to a nun and having a late night due to a candlelight procession were just some of the special moments that made the festival so good.

Discerning, for me, has been at times very daunting and I was relieved to see that Invocation understood that. Through workshops and talks we were given invaluable advice but best of all, found ourselves encouraged and enthused. It was not a recruitment or careers fair. There were many different orders of religious but not overwhelmingly so. They were all kind and understanding, chatting with us at mealtimes or sitting themselves down with us on the steps to ask us how we were doing. The focus of the weekend was on prayer and a sense of enjoyment. Fr Stephen Langridge wrote in his welcome that “we want you to go away from here with the distinct impression that you experienced joy and enthusiasm over the weekend, that you made new friends and were encouraged in your faith.” This was certainly the case for me. It was a joy to meet new people who were at the same stage as me, to be able to talk about our fears and longings and know that the other understood. There was plenty of time just to chat and relax. It was often in these informal conversations with both religious sisters and discerners that I was helped the most.
Invocation2012 was extremely well organised and was professional without losing its heart. Indeed, 'heart' was a theme that ran through the weekend as we welcomed the Heart of St John Mary Vianney on the Saturday night. The Liturgy and Veneration that followed the next day was a highlight for many.
My highlight came at the end of the Solemn Mass on Sunday. To the sound of the most beautiful, glorious organ music the clergy filed slowly off the sanctuary and down the Chapel. Amongst them were two Archbishops and at least two Bishops, plus many priests, deacons and the seminarians. Due to the numbers this took some time and the organ continued, music that, as a friend put it, “lifted us to heaven”. I was overwhelmed with a sense of love for the Catholic Church, my Church, and for my friends around me who had helped get me here. As at the end of every Mass, once all the clergy had left the sanctuary they turned as one towards the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle and genuflected. I knew in those moments that no matter where or what God was calling me to, whatever the challenges or struggles that I would have to overcome, everything would be fine, because I couldn’t help but love our Catholic faith and ultimately, Jesus.
When Oscott College was rebuilt in 1838 the man behind the project, Thomas Walsh, had the aim that “Oscott would symbolise the renewal of Catholic life in England.” What was the intent then seemed renewed again at Invocation2012. You could not help but feel heartened by seeing at least 200 young people who all turned up, despite bad weather, worries and natural apprehension, because we felt called to respond to something in our hearts from God. Surely there is indeed a renewal of Catholic life in England, and we are part of it. Thank you to Invocation 2012 for helping me to make the next step.

The journey to invocation started months ago. I saw advertised: "Any young man or woman between the ages of 16 and 35 who is serious about their relationship with God and is open to discerning his will for their lives is welcome to come along". I read between the lines and automatically thought this was being called be a monk or a priest (how wrong I was by the end). Checking the website and thinking should I go, I booked on and crazily signed up to sleep in a marquee. The less courageous of us in the group bought their own tent. The worries rushed through our minds: what was this weekend about? What is God going to do with us? Still a little worried of what to expect, we battled on through the weather on Friday and settled in. All these worries went to the back of our mind and we just jumped into listening to the talks, varying from Bishops, sisters and our very own Canon Luiz. There were different workshops on different subjects: Franciscans, Apostolic lay work, the Carmelite order, what is prayer, called to be a priest and so many others.  In my eyes, I didn't know what to expect about this weekend, but I was pleasantly surprised at the peaceful and prayerful atmosphere that filled the place, it really helped to understand what God calls us to be.  I learnt that I must open my heart to the Lord and get to know him. I know relationships take time to develop but if I allow it and get to know God and allow him to help, that is the greatest relationship we can ever have. The outcome of the weekend for me? Well time will tell..

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